With the rise of Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists (SCRAs) in the UK, mostly reported as SPICE or MAMBA in the media, do you know the differences between them and Cannabis?
Firstly let’s talk about the similarities.
Both Cannabis and SCRAs work on the CB1 & CB2 receptors. Because of this, users of SCRAs may have feelings similar to Cannabis, relaxation, euphoria and hallucinations. However, that’s where the similarities end!
Now the differences; Cannabis is a natural plant, while SCRAs typically come in a powder or crystal form and are made from synthetic substances sprayed on to plant-like materials.
Due to this, there is no way of measuring the potency as it can be highly concentrated or have no active chemical in it at all. Current reports indicate that SCRAs can be 100-800 times more potent than Cannabis.
SCRAs can have a quicker onset and produce intense paranoid feelings that can last for up to 6-8 hours. This is due to its binding ability to the CB1 receptor, rather than “floating over” the CB1 receptor as Cannabis does.
In the UK, there is reported to be over 200 variants of SCRAs, the most notable being SCAR -JWH-018.
As time has progressed and laws have been changed regarding synthetic cannabis, particularly in the Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Bill in 2016, illicit manufactures have constantly tweaked and manipulated the chemical structure.
Currently in the UK, two main SCRA’s are in active production – 5F-MDMB-PINACA and MMB-FUBINACA. These chemicals are imported to the UK and are typically manufactured with no regards for the safe processing of chemicals, the consistency of the product or the effects it will have on users. It has been known that 5F-MDMB-PINACA and MMB-FUBINACA have been mixed together.
Deaths associated with synthetic cannabis have risen incomparably over the last few years. Latest results from the Office of National Statistics confirm that 204 people died in 2016 as a result of ingesting SCRA’s, a figure that stood at just 2 deaths in 2013.
The wide-scale of availability of SCRA’s when it was sold as a ‘legal high’ has contributed to a rise in deaths through its use. This has been especially prevalent in the prison system in the United Kingdom.
In the 2015-16 Inspectorate of Prisons Annual Report, Chief Inspector Peter Clarke specified SCRAs as a major problem inside the prison system, claiming that 39 inmates had died as a result of use between June 2013-June 2015.
Despite the British Government making SCRAs illegal last year, there seems to be no halting the mammoth problem of its use, with many town centres around the UK becoming congested with users, who are behaving anti-socially due to effects of using the synthetic drugs.
Due to its comparative infancy compared to other illicit drugs, limited information on the long-term effects of SCRA use is unavailable.
However, short term effects have been observed and may include increased anxiety, aggressiveness, panic attacks, delusions and visual hallucinations, sexual aggression and inappropriate sexual behaviour. Reports of acute kidney injury, hypertension , chest pains and heart palpitations have also been reported. In some instances, SCARs can have effects such as tremors, convulsions, vomiting, a loss of sight and speech and of course, death.
The growth of SCRAs is a dangerous trend and its use should be avoided at all costs. Despite its appearance, these synthetic drugs are the complete antithesis of cannabis, which has a historical mortality rate of 0.